Points, Miles & Life

Travel adventures on this earthly pilgrimage

Category: Reviews (page 1 of 6)

St. Regis Rome Deluxe Room Review: Just too many points

Location: Rome, Italy

Overall rating: 7/10

Pros: Great location, amazingly ornate room, fun splurge for a night

Cons: Under construction at the time, cost way too many points

This review is dated now, but I wanted to wrap up this draft from our Europe adventures in 2016.

During our thirty days in Europe during 2016, my wife and I visited Rome as our last stop before moving on from Italy. For the five nights prior we had been visiting Florence, a lovely city of art and history (SEE: Hilton Florence Metropole: A Review). Even that wasn’t enough time to scratch the surface of what Florence has to offer. But we had to move on.

For our first night I’d booked the St. Regis Rome. It was very close to the train station and one of the splurges I’d settled on for the trip. Whether it would really live up to my expectations remained to be seen.

I booked a deluxe room since there weren’t any standard rooms available for our one night. The equivalent room was going for over $500 per night, so it was a fairly reasonable use of 21,500 SPG points. Reasonable meaning we got what I consider a par “value” for them, when comparing cash rates versus points rates.

Arrival in Rome

We arrived in Rome from Florence on the Frecciarossa train. Frecciarossa literally means “red arrow”. It was definitely the fastest train I’ve ridden and brought us to Rome in no time at all. First on the agenda was picking up our 72-hour Roma passes (SEE: Roma Pass vs Omnia Pass: which is better?). Afterwards, it was off to the hotel.

Although we probably could have walked to the St. Regis directly from the Termini train station, I decided it would be easier to take the metro one stop to the Repubblica station. The St. Regis Rome was only a short walk from there.

First impressions

I had remembered reading that the St. Regis Rome was under renovation. I don’t know exactly where the normal main entrance is, but is certainly wasn’t where we were checked in. I’m sure things are back to normal by now.

The hotel was very regal, and pretty much what I expected a St. Regis to be. The first thing that pops into my head is royalty. The place was over-the-top ornate. We made our way up a grand staircase to our room. The bellhop brought our luggage, something I don’t allow often.

We were in room 222. It was even named.

Deluxe Room

As I mentioned before, standard rooms were all booked during our dates, so I had to call in and book a deluxe room. The ability to book upgraded room categories for a relatively small points increase was an awesome feature of the SPG program. I’m not sure the combined SPG/Marriott program will offer the same value.

Our deluxe room was quite the sight when we opened the door.

From the wall art, to the draperies, to the furnishings, it amazes me that people design hotel rooms like this. We were really out of our element here.

st. regis rome

Our deluxe room at the St. Regis Rome wasn’t especially large, but it was more than comfortable. I made sure I got photos of it from every angle.

Maybe the Cupola di S. Rocco is in reference to the painting above the bed? That was my only guess. That’s the only dome I can spy.

At the end of the bed was a comfortable love seat and coffee table. It was a nice design of living area combined with bedroom in minimal space.

The desk was as regal as everything else. So much for chair comfort, though. There was no way I could have worked in that for more than 30 minutes without wanting to find something else.

There was a smaller table that appeared to be for the sole purpose of doing your makeup, given the lighting and mirrors.

The interior and closet doors were even decorative.

It was a lovely room, and like a couple other properties on this trip, leagues beyond any hotel I’d ever stayed at prior to this trip.

Bathroom

The bathroom was super nice, but it wasn’t the all-time best. We’d just been in the Park Hyatt Milan several nights before and that is still the winner for best hotel bathroom (and best bath amenities…the shampoo smells amazing).

Like the Park Hyatt Milan, the bathroom featured both a bathtub and a shower. If this is a typical feature of high end hotels, I’m definitely a fan.

The glassed-in shower was plenty large and had both a large overhead shower-head and a small detachable one.

The sink area was fairly large and the mirror gilded, like so many other things in the room.

Then there was the phone next to the toilet again, something I’d first noticed at the Hyatt Regency Palais du la Mediteranee.

If a toilet phone is what it takes to be a “fancy” hotel, I just don’t get it.

St. Regis Rome Butler service?

On of the hallmarks of the St. Regis brand is their renowned butler service. Turns out we needed at least an “Imperial Room” for this to be a part of our stay. It would have cost some more points, and we were already spending plenty as it was. It wasn’t like we needed that sort of service anyway, although it would have been a cool experience. I wonder if he would have brought us groceries?

I suppose he might also expect us to tip him handsomely. At $500+ per night, I’m sure whatever we could have given him would not have been satisfactory. We are peasants who can make do without being waited on.

Signature St. Regis Rome experiences

There are a couple experiences I read about that you can enjoy at the St. Regis Rome. First, there is a daily high tea that you can enjoy. You just better be made of money. Tea costs €28 per person.

In the evening there is a champagne sabering. Before our stay, I had no idea what that this is. Thanks to Google, one can look up these sorts of things if they are lacking in “culture”. At 7:00 p.m. every evening guests can gather in the Caelum Lounge and Bar to watch the opening of a bottle of Moët & Chandon champagne. By saber. Yeah. It’s a thing.

I guess there is an art to it. Rather than slash the glass of the beck of the bottle, the blade slides along the seam in the bottle until it impacts the joint with the glass seam at the cork, causing a clean break, a flying cork, and a small jet of foamy champagne as an exciting start to enjoying a glass of bubbly.

If you want breakfast at the hotel, be prepared to pay a pretty penny. It would have been nice to be a Starwood Platinum member when we stayed there, but I didn’t have a way of hacking that status at the time. Breakfast for the non-elite runs €43 per person. Don’t choke on your coffee.

We pretty much enjoyed the hotel for the bulk of our stay. I had requested late  checkout, so we were able to enjoy Rome a bit the next day, but our evening at the St. Regis Rome was pretty much just spent hanging out in our lovely room. After days of walking all around Florence, we needed a break.

Conclusion

Hindsight is always 20/20. This stay in particular taught me how content we are with burning points at midscale hotels. The St. Regis Rome was way out of our league.

It was a fun night at a fancy place, but it didn’t provide us any more value staying here rather than at the Sheraton, except for maybe an hour’s worth of time savings. Honestly, we got way less value. We could have spent four nights at the Sheraton Roma for what we paid for the St. Regis. And breakfast would have been included. That would have been the winner, hands down. Our stay at the St. Regis Rome is a very clear example of Vendoming.

The St. Regis Rome wasn’t a bad hotel, it was just way beyond what we needed. In the future I am going to be far more selective with where we stay. After all, when a Hyatt House is basically your wife’s favorite hotel, there’s no need to go all out. 😉

Pima Air and Space Museum – Must see for the aviation enthusiast!

After visiting Colossal Cave Mountain Park, we headed to the Pima Air and Space Museum as our second stop on the first day of our road trip across the Southwest (SEE: Southwest Road Trip 2018: An Overview). As an aviation aficionado (and with a son that is already very much into airplanes as well), it was a must-see while we were in Tucson.

General info for the Pima Air and Space Museum

The Pima Air and Space Museum is located on the eastern outskirts of Tucson, not far from both the airport and the Air Force base. The museum includes a massive 80 acres of exhibits featuring hundreds of aircraft. It is one of the largest non-government-funded air museums in the world.

Single-day entry prices are as follows:

  • Adult (13+) – $16.50
  • Junior (5-12) – $10.00
  • Senior (65+)/Active Military – $13.75
  • Child (< 4) – Free

There is also a cheaper price for Pima County residents. I’m honestly surprised they don’t offer a fairly inexpensive annual membership. The group rate (20+) is also only $13.50 per person for the day.

While we only were there for one day, the Pima Air and Space Museum also offers 2-day passes. If you’re a serious aviation enthusiast, this might be the best way to go. The 2-day pass is a great deal at $22.00 for adults and $12.50 for kids.

Indoor Exhibits

It is fitting that you are greeted by a reconstruction of a Wright Flyer as the very first exhibit. This brought back memories of our visit to the Museum of Flight near Boeing Field when I was 13 years old, where I got to take a couple turns in a simulator that allowed you to control the Wright Flyer almost exactly how Oroville Wright controlled in on that famous day near Kitty Hawk.

The main indoor hangar is filled with an incredible assortment of all kinds of aircraft, both civilian and military. You could spend most of a day in just this space.

There are also a few short films to watch at various locations and short sound clips. One of my favorite planes in the main hangar was the Martin PBM Mariner.

One of the coolest aircraft on display is a Lockheed SR-71 Blackbird.

pima air and space museum

My aspiring pilot had a blast at the controls of this kit plane. No, he didn’t get off the ground. Can you believe you would assemble this thing yourself? Not sure I’d trust a plane I put together.

We spent the bulk of our time in the main hangar. There is simply that much to see.

Other Hangars

There are a total of three other hangars besides the main one, as well as an additional building that is a memorial of the 390th Bombing Group and houses a B-17 Flying Fortress. This was the first model plane I completed as a kid, and I have always been fascinated with it.

With such an abbreviated schedule, we spent about 10 minutes in the 390th museum (sadly). We didn’t even get a chance to enter the other hangars. I opted for a tour of the grounds instead.

Outdoor Exhibits

There is so much to see in the outdoor exhibits that you could literally spend all day walking around and under every single aircraft on the 80 acres of the museum.

I ended up paying for the tram, as it was a fairly hot Arizona day, and I knew the kids wouldn’t be up for walking much of the outside areas. Plus, it was faster and included a guide, and we didn’t have a lot of time. At $6 per person, the tram adds up quickly for a family. But I would recommend it, especially if you are on a schedule.

One of the perks is that the drivers are retired professionals from the aviation industry. Our tour guide’s name was Ron. He was a retired pilot who had a 27-year career with Northwest Airlines after seven years as a Navy Reserve pilot. His knowledge of aircraft and aviation history was impressive.

The first tram stops were near some U.S. military fighters. My favorite was “Big Sal”, an F-105 flown in the Vietnam War by Capt. John Hoffman and named for his wife, Sally.

One of the next stops was at a Marine Corps Sikorsky S-43.

Across from it on the other side beyond a fence is an Orbis Flying Eye Hospital DC-10. My son thought it was super cool with the engine built into the tail. However, this plane has the affectionate nickname “Death Contraption 10”, among other equally awful monikers, due to several incidents that resulted in loss of life. The most famous is very likely United flight 232. After suffering critical failure in the tail engine, the pilots were left with very little control of the plane. Amazingly, they still managed to nearly land it at Sioux City, Iowa.

One plane that stood out especially was the “Flying Guppy”.

Further along we saw a Trans World Airlines Lockheed Constellation. Our tour guide remarked how sleek and unique the plane’s lines are. The triple tail was a design feature that allowed the aircraft to fit into existing hangars with low ceilings. It’s a beaut.

The Lockheed Constellation (not this one specifically) holds the record for the longest duration, non-stop passenger flight on a piston powered aircraft. Trans World Airlines’ inaugural flight from London to San Francisco was a ridiculous 23 hours and 19 minutes. This wasn’t mentioned during the tour, but it is an amazing feat. The aircraft would have averaged a mere 230 miles per hour.

Soon we had passed enough aircraft that I began to lose track of what we saw. It was information overload. And my phone was dying, to boot.

I took a few more photos while I could, including this U.S. Air Force Douglas C-124 Globemaster II, nicknamed “Old Shaky” due to the aircraft’s tendency to due just that during flight. The large nose cone sported by the plane is a weather radar.

There were also a couple more modern airliners featured at the Pima Air and Space Museum. These included the second Boeing 787 ever manufactured. It is accompanied by a China Southern 737.

Near the end of the tour is what the tour guide called the queen of the lot: a Convair B-36.

Overall, I enjoyed the tram tour immensely. If we had had the time to spend (say, 2 full days), and had visited during the winter, I probably would have opted to walk the facility. But the knowledge of the tour guide plus the fact that we didn’t have to walk over 2 miles up and down through the outdoor section of the museum is definitely worth $6 per person.

After the tram ride, we spent maybe another 15 minutes inside. The kids were soon ready to move on, and we took off for the hotel (SEE: 2 Consistently Good Mid-Range Hotel Brands for Families).

Conclusion

The Pima Air and Space Museum was a great way to begin our trip. I already have a son that is very interested in aircraft and aviation in general, and it was the perfect place to see. Next on the list of aviation destinations is Seattle, where I’d like to take him to the Museum of Flight and on a tour of the Boeing factory. We’ll see when I manage to fit that trip into our schedule.

Should you Visit Colossal Cave Mountain Park?

After flying on literally the most ahead-of-schedule United flight I’ve ever set foot on (SEE: My Kids Magically Fixed United), the kids and I arrived in Tucson late at night. The next morning included getting a rental car from the airport. I’ll not let you forget the screaming deal I found on a one-way for our adventure driving back to California (SEE: 2 Tips for Planning a Last Minute Trip).

Our first stop on our first day was Colossal Cave Mountain Park. I’d found the attraction in the brief searching I’d done to find out if there was anything else in Tucson worth seeing besides the Air and Space Museum and Saguaro National Park. Since we’d have a full day to spend, I figured we’d split the time between the museum and the cave.

General Info on Colossal Cave Mountain Park

The park is actually located outside Tucson a good half hour. The easiest access is by taking I-10 east until you reach Exit 279. A left turn will send you onto Colossal Cave Road. From there, you can pretty much follow the signs.

A large arch greets you as you enter the park. The road then turns really rough. It made me wonder what sort of shape the place was in and what the quality of the tour would be like.

The parking lot was a bit confusing. We got up to the top, parked, and then I wasn’t quite sure where to go, so we walked the wrong direction. The path to the cave actually takes you down a bit, and I totally missed the sign and entrance since someone had been stopped in front of it when we’d parked.

The path takes you down to the gift shop and the entrance to the cave.

You can pay for a cave tour ahead of time by booking online. Tours are capacity-controlled, and I’m sure they sell out during busier times. There was only one tour sold out for our day at the time I booked, and I got the 11:00 a.m. tour like I’d hoped for. From what I’ve read, though, you might want to book early as the Classic Cave Tours do sell out on popular dates and at popular times.

If you want to chance things, you can buy tickets at the gift shop like we did. The only issue is that you may have to wait for a tour if one has filled up, and there wasn’t a whole lot to do in the interim. I’d recommend booking online if you know you’ll be there at a specific time.

Touring Colossal Cave

One of the things that surprised me was how warm the cave was. In Oregon, the cave is typically a chilly 40 degrees. And it is wet. Colossal Cave is exactly the opposite. Although it was a fairly scorching 90 degrees outside (hey…don’t judge this Humboldt boy), the cave is a perfect 70 degrees.

It is also a dry limestone cave, which means the formations aren’t growing anymore. This has been the state of Colossal Cave for at least a few hundred years.

Our tour guide’s name was Savannah. She was engaging and humorous, which makes for a great tour. She had great knowledge of the cave and was able to relay much of the science of limestone caves and the history of Colossal Cave in particular.

When the tour guide mentioned how many stairs we’d be either climbing or descending, my first thought was, wow, that is a ton.” But over the course of the tour I realized that it wasn’t as strenuous as I’d anticipated. You walk a good distance, and the stair sections are fairly well broken up.

The kids were fairly interested during most of the tour. There were instances where they wanted to move on, but others where they really enjoyed what we were looking at. Some of the formations had names, either due to the unique shape of the rock, or the way they would cast shadows when the guide shined her light on them. This was the “witch of the cave”.

My favorite parts were definitely the Crystal Forest and the Drapery Room. The sad part, however, is that because Colossal Cave is a dry cave, the broken stalactites are no longer growing and will not repair themselves.

colossal cave mountain park

All we can do now is limit additional damage to the cave.

There is also a story of bandits that hid gold in Colossal Cave and then died in a shootout soon after. The gold is worth tens of thousands of dollars, and to this day no one has found it. The tour guide played this story up, although she had the gall to insist that we had to share a cut of the gold with her should we find it.

Other tours and activities at Colossal Cave Mountain Park

The bulk of people take the normal cave tour. However, the park offers a few other levels of cave exploration for the more adventurous types. There is a ladder tour that costs $35 and is 90 minutes long, taking you to places the Classic Cave Tour doesn’t. You have to be at least 12 years old and physically able to climb ladders and move through narrow spaces.  For comparison, the normal tour is about 50 minutes long and is all concrete path and stairs.

Adventurous types can also take the Wild Cave Tour that last 3.5 hours and costs $85. Groups are limited to 6 people and require a minimum of 2. Young adults of 16 or 17 can take the tour, but they must be accompanied by an adult. You should be physically fit and need to bring gloves (which you can also purchase there).

Besides the other tours, there is a gift shop, a small “cafe” (it’s basically a food stand). We considered eating here but ended up opting for a Mexican restaurant about 15 minutes away.

There is also a super short nature trail. If this is your one chance to be up-close-and-personal with some saguaro, I’d take it. Otherwise, I’d pass. There is a lot more to see and enjoy in Saguaro National Park itself.

Conclusion

My takeaway is that if you have access to other, larger and more interesting caves, you might want to pass up Colossal Cave Mountain Park. The tour was interesting, but not quite as long or engaging as the tours I’ve taken at the Oregon Caves. And nothing has beaten my visit to Carlsbad Caverns in terms of size.

But…Colossal Cave Mountain Park does have some things going for it, including the perfect temperature, and the fact that it is a dry cave, which is a bit more rare. It is also within an easy drive of Tucson, so it could be a great place to spend a half a day if you are already in the area.

San Francisco Airport Marriott Waterfront Executive Studio Suite Review

Pros: Fantastic location, beautiful lobby, great loyalty recognition, room had an awesome airport view

Cons: Lounge wasn’t serviced well in the evening

Our final night before we called off our original trip to Europe (which was subsequently re-planned) was at the San Francisco Airport Marriott Waterfront. I wanted to be in close proximity to the airport for our flight out the next day, and it was a great option. It would also be the final night for finishing off my Marriott Platinum challenge (SEE: Fast track status: how to sign up for a Marriott Platinum challenge).

Arrival at the San Francisco Airport Marriott Waterfront

We didn’t have to travel far to the hotel since we’d been staying in SF for free the previous two nights. There were a couple reasons I wanted to be in a hotel that night. First, I needed to be able to clean the apartment, launder the linens and towels, and tidy up in general, and I didn’t want to rush through all that during our last morning. Second, I wanted the kids to be able to enjoy themselves after two days of being cooped up with just their math books, activity books, a few toys and a couple movies while I was in all-day work meetings. I knew that a swim in the pool would make their day. Plus, I was still split on whether we’d actually head out on the trip and I wanted them to enjoy some part of our excursion to San Francisco.

The most cost-effective option to get to the hotel was (amazingly) Uber from the city. We paid right about ~$30 to get to the airport hotel. BART to the airport would have cost us a hair more, and then we would have had to walk through the terminal and take the airport shuttle. After thanking the Uber driving we walked inside to a beautiful lobby with a great view of the Bay.

san francisco airport marriott waterfront lobby

There was no check-in line when we arrived at the San Francisco Airport Marriott Waterfront. I had decided not to check-in early with the Marriott app, hoping to ask for an upgrade to at least a bay view room from which we could watch the planes land. The agent at the front desk said that wouldn’t be a problem and soon we were on our way to the 10th floor with our room keys.

Sweet first impressions

The agent failed to tell me that he had gone beyond just an upgrade to a bay view room; we were given a corner executive suite with a stunning view of both the airport and runways! My kids were thrilled. To date this is the best Marriott upgrade we’d been given, and I didn’t even hold Platinum status (although I do now).

The suite had two queens beds in the bedroom area, which was separated from the living area by a doorway.

The living area for its part was furnished sufficiently, with a couch, armchair and a table and chairs for four.

san francisco airport marriott waterfront suite living space

The best part of all was the view, of course. I’ve already touched on that. Watching planes coming and going at SFO from the comfort of our room was awesome. You can sit and eat (or work) and catch every wide-body that touches down at SFO.

The room had the other typical amenities, like a desk and TV.

Oddly, there wasn’t a second TV in the living area.

Most suites I’ve ever been given have more than one TV if the bedroom and living areas are separate (or a creative solution like this Hyatt House hotel). But this is a small concern to me. We hardly ever turn it on anyway.

I don’t know the occupancy of the suite, but it would have been sufficient for our family of five. With a couch, a table and chairs, a desk and plenty of space, it is ideal for a family. The primary difficulty would be guaranteeing that you get the room, short of paying the $350 the San Francisco Airport Marriott Waterfront was asking that night.

Bathroom

The bathroom was the only awkward part of the room. For starters, the door didn’t lock. This really isn’t an issue if you’re traveling as a couple. But with two of my kids, it could have been a bit awkward. Luckily, the toddler wasn’t along to pull it open on me.

The suite had only a glass shower, which was fine. I actually prefer this. But note that there isn’t a tub, in case that is a necessary amenity for you.

I never really care what the branding is of the bathroom amenities as long as they give you some. The only ones that ever really wowed me were at the Park Hyatt Milan.

M Lounge at the San Francisco Airport Marriott Waterfront

Since I have Marriott Gold status, we were granted complimentary access to the M Lounge. Typically, lounges offer a light breakfast in the morning and snacks in the evening, plus some other amenities. The M Lounge offered a good amount of seating.

We arrived a little late, and there wasn’t much to be found in the lounge. They had a few canisters of snacks, consisting of gummies, M&Ms and Chex mix. Not really anything you could even being to call dinner. I prefer when places will at least have crackers, veggies and other light fare that you can eat enough to say you had dinner.

Well…the options here were let the kids eat snack food or go pay for dinner at the hotel restaurant. I did what any dad would do when mom is not around and let the kids eat Chex mix and gummies for dinner. We fortunately also found some yogurt, which ended up being the main staple. I’m sure it was in the cooler as part of breakfast, but I still considered it fair game. Our other choices were milk, butter and a single type of soft drink.

The lounge space itself was nice enough. The one problem was that people continued to come through, and no one was there to either clean or restock any of the snacks.

Finally, just when we were about to leave, an employee came by with more of everything to refill the canisters.

Breakfast

Breakfast in the morning was a bit better in the M Lounge. Selections included eggs and bacon, fruit, yogurt and other items. The selection wasn’t huge, but we found it sufficient.

The one downside was that the place was a zoo. This is the one reason I didn’t take any photos during breakfast. It always feels awkward to me trying to take photos at a hotel or lounge buffet with people all around me.

Alternatively, you could eat in the hotel restaurant. But free food at the lounge with Marriott elite status is a perk. I’m not going to turn it down.

Swimming Pool

If your kids are anything like mine, the most important amenity of a hotel is the pool. We definitely made time for a morning swim.

The pool at the San Francisco Airport Marriott Waterfront isn’t very large. But it’s nice enough. There is also a sizable hot tub.

The plus was that we had the pool to ourselves when we visited. We stayed about an hour before heading back up to our awesome suite to watch some more airplanes.

An avgeek paradise

The San Francisco Airport Marriott Waterfront sits to the south of SFO with enviable views of the airport, runways and bay. It’s in an ideal location for an aviation geek. If you decide to visit, make sure to book a room with a Bay View and/or ask for an upgrade at the desk. The view of the airport is really the hotel’s best feature.

We were in a corner suite on the airport side, so our views not only included runways 28L and 28R, but San Francisco Airport itself. We could watch jets land and take off at our leisure.

Given the dirty state of the windows, the photos aren’t the best.

san francisco airport marriott waterfront view

You could probably get some great shots from the waterfront walk along the Bay in front of the hotel, which is another great spot to hang out. How I wished I had a decent camera to take some photos of the airplane landing action on 28L and 28R.

Final remarks

The San Francisco Airport Marriott Waterfront is now in the running for best SFO airport hotel. The other one I’m really partial to is the Staybridge Suites San Bruno, where we burnt our IHG free night certificates last year (SEE: Why the “best value” redemptions might not actually provide the best value).  The benefit of Staybridge is that they offer a full breakfast and a better evening reception that can double as dinner. I wasn’t impress with what the M Lounge had to offer.

san francisco airport marriott waterfront dusk view

Still, the San Francisco Airport Marriott Waterfront has a lot going for it, especially given its amazing location near SFO Airport and its runways. For those with a love of airplanes, I’d highly recommend the hotel. Elite recognition was also good, given that we were upgraded to a suite without top-tier Marriott status. I’d happily stay here again.

Holiday Inn Auburn Review

Pros: Good quality for the Holiday Inn brand, great pool, nice location in Auburn

Cons: Decent breakfast, but service could use some improvement

Back in January I visited the Sacramento area with our older two kids on a long weekend adventure (SEE: Overview of our fun weekend in Sacramento). Not to let an opportunity pass me by to sandwich work and leisure together, I was able to tack on an extra night at the Holiday Inn Auburn so that I could take my FAA Part 107 test and receive my small unmanned aerial systems pilot license (which was subsequently hilariously messed up).

The Holiday Inn Auburn requires 20,000 IHG points per night, which is a pretty good deal considering their typical rates. For most dates I would be willing to burn my points to stay here. In this case, however, work was paying. I’d worked out a deal where they’d cover the last night of the trip since I’d normally have to travel for the test anyway, although not quite as far.

Arriving at the Holiday Inn Auburn

I found that there was a testing location in Auburn, which isn’t far from Sacramento, and so I booked the final night of our trip here. The Holiday Inn Auburn is right off the freeway in the middle of town. It was less than an hour drive from our other hotel, which meant the kids didn’t get carsick.

holiday inn auburn lobby

The lobby was appointed nicely and definitely felt more upscale. Due to the lack of standardization within the Holiday Inn brand, I don’t really consider them to be upscale. But some can border on it. If I’m looking for a truly upscale hotel, it’ll be something like the Marriott, the Westin or a Hyatt. But then I’d be paying for it with my own points.

Check in was smooth and easy, which has been the norm for IHG. Honestly, I tend to only ever have issues at either super budget hotels, or high end hotels that are quite busy and you have to wait in the queue. I hate waiting to simply check into a hotel. Actually, I really don’t like waiting in general.

Room

The room at the Holiday Inn Auburn was nice, and it felt in line with what I have come to expect from the good hotels after several stays with the brand. Rather than being dated and tired like the previous Holiday Inn we stayed in (SEE: Holiday Inn Rancho Cordova Review), the room felt clean and fresh.

holiday inn auburn beds

Our bed situation was two queens, which is pretty standard. The couple times I have accidentally booked or received two doubles, it makes for a terrible night as I get kicked incessantly by my son. A king and sofa-bed, when offered, is honestly the best when traveling with two kids of opposite genders.

A couple Holiday Inns at which I’ve stayed have been in fairly old buildings, which makes finding outlets for electronics a bit inconvenient. Not here. They have nicely installed sockets over the nightstand. The reading lights mounted to the beds were nice as well.

There was also a work desk and armchair, pretty standard for any hotel room. More outlets were available in the lamp.

The room also had a Keurig coffee maker, ceramic mugs, and a small selection of tea and coffee. It also included a fridge, which was unexpected. I don’t think it is a standard amenity for Holiday Inns. When traveling with my wife, a fridge is a must. A full kitchen is preferred.

There was nothing special about the bathroom, except it was in much better condition here at the Holiday Inn Auburn than at the Holiday Inn Rancho Cordova.

Overall, the room met expectations for what I consider to be standard for Holiday Inns. I wish there wasn’t so much variation among the chain. It’s kinda like Sheraton with SPG. Some are old and tired, others are new (or renovated) and great hotels. You really need to do some research before booking. The Holiday Inn Auburn passed the test for me.

The kids’ favorite place is always the pool

I keep coming back to this again and again. While the kids do comment on the overall quality of the hotel (and have quickly learned to distinguish between a $300 hotel we are getting for free versus the $50 motel I’ll sometimes book), most of their comments focus on the pool. Is there a pool? Is it warm? Is it nice? Having a pool is really all they care about. I’m constantly reminded of this post by Dan at Points with a Crew.

holiday inn auburn pool

The pool at the Holiday Inn Auburn turned out to be a great one for the kids. It was warmer than the last one, and it made for a great evening swim.

I camped out in the whirlpool spa, to the kids dismay. While the pool was warm enough for them, it wasn’t warm enough for me. Unless its super hot out, it better be bathwater.

Breakfast at the Holiday Inn Auburn

I’d booked a breakfast rate at the hotel for little more (~$5) than what the normal rate was. This normally includes breakfast for two, but kids eat free at Holiday Inns, so we all ate for the $5 extra. These rates are sometimes worth booking if it is available.

Obviously, it can easily make sense to book at another hotel that simply offers free breakfast to everyone, but this was a good deal for a hotel that typically charges for breakfast.

However, I was a bit skeptical after having breakfast at the Holiday Inn Rancho Cordova. Breakfast there wasn’t up to par from my previous experiences with Holiday Inns. My favorites are still the Holiday Inn Old Sydney and the Holiday Inn Sydney – Waterfront in Nova Scotia.

holiday inn auburn breakfast

While not fine dining by any means, breakfast here was a buffet that is a step above a Holiday Inn Express or most other “free breakfast hotels”. I still find it hard for a hotel to really make a “fancy” breakfast (and find it even harder to pay for it!).

The one way in which breakfast fell flat was service. The two attendants did very little besides talk to each other. There were a couple items that were out, and they barely got around to restocking them by the time we finished up.

What to do in Auburn

This was my second time in Auburn. Both visits have been quick, and I am actually pretty unfamiliar with what the area offers. Last time was with friends several years ago, and we headed to Roseville for most of the time. This time we didn’t really do much besides quickly stop in old town. True to their gold mining roots, it features a giant statue of a miner panning for gold. What I *do* know is that the area includes hiking and biking opportunities along the American River, breweries and wineries, and a couple museums.

My other stop with the kids was at Foresthill Bridge – the highest bridge in California. Years ago, this is where my friends and I got fiercely chewed out by a CHP officer for throwing rocks over 700 feet down into the river below. Considering that there are boaters, hikers and bikers below, it was a stupid choice on our part. Of the things on my “young and dumb” list, this is probably the worst. I made sure to tell my kids that rock throwing was off the table.

Conclusion

After that, we grabbed our bags and headed out. Overall, our stay at the Holliday Inn Auburn was nice. My kids enjoyed the pool, and the hotel met my expectations in terms of what a Holiday Inn should be. If we ever headed back to the area, I’d hope to stay again.

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